Natural Remedies for Headaches

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Ever had a headache that just wouldn’t go away? Headaches are actually a common ailment with most people having experienced a headache at one time or another.

What's more, headache disorders are among the most common nervous system disorders, prevalent in 48.9% of the general population. Also, while headaches affect everyone, they are more common in women than men.

When diagnosing headaches, healthcare professionals determine whether the person is experiencing one of the four types of primary headaches. If not, the cause is secondary, meaning that an underlying condition causes it.

Causes of Headaches

There are two different kinds of headaches—primary headaches and secondary headaches. Primary headaches have no underlying cause, but secondary headaches are caused by something else. Here is a closer look at the types of headaches as well as their causes.

Primary Headaches

There are four types of primary headaches—migraines, tension-type headaches, cluster headaches, and medication overuse headaches. Regardless of which type you may have, if you experience recurring headaches, it is best to see a healthcare provider for an official diagnosis.

Migraines

Migraines are the second most common type of headache. They usually consist of a painful throbbing or pulsating feeling that can last up to 72 hours. While having a migraine, you may experience nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light and sounds.

If you have headaches for 15 days per month, and at least eight of them meet the criteria for migraine, then you might have chronic migraines. Chronic migraines can be disabling and can significantly affect the quality of life of the person experiencing them. Only about 1.3% to 2.4% of people who have migraines experience chronic migraines.

Tension Headaches

Tension-type headaches are another type of headache people experience. These headaches often feel like the pressure is being applied to your head or like your head is being pressed together. While this type of headache is painful, it does not usually affect daily life the way that migraines do.

There are usually no other symptoms that accompany tension-type headaches and it is rare for people with tension-type headaches to be sensitive to light or sound. While tension-type headaches are diagnosed regularly, they are not well researched. Due to the lack of symptoms that are common to migraines, tension-type headaches are somewhat misunderstood.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches most commonly occur in young men who smoke tobacco. These headaches generally occur in short durations but are described to be excruciatingly painful. Cluster headaches can last up to 3 hours at a time and can happen up to eight times per day.

They are one of the more common short-duration headaches, but that does not mean they are common to the general population. Only about 0.1% of the population experiences cluster headaches.

Medication Overuse Headaches

Medication overuse headaches are usually diagnosed alongside chronic daily headache disorders. If the medication used to treat chronic daily headaches is taken too frequently, it can cause medication overuse headaches.

The medication prescribed for migraines is often a type called analgesics. You should not take analgesics more than 8 to 10 days per month. If taken more often than that, there is a risk of increased headaches. Sometimes it can be tricky to determine whether a medication overuse headache is the cause of a headache or if the person is experiencing chronic daily headaches.

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are uncommon. However, it is vital to recognize them because getting treatment for them early on can save your life. An underlying medical condition can cause secondary headaches. Depending on that condition, the headache may signal something much more severe.

Any recurring headache that does not fit into one of the four primary types of headaches is considered a secondary headache. Some signs of secondary headaches are increasing pain levels, changing types of pain, and the appearance of other neurological symptoms. If you experience any recurring headaches, it is best to see a healthcare provider right away.

Natural Remedies for Headaches

Natural remedies are intended to work alongside a treatment plan and can provide a better quality of life for those with recurring headaches. Here are the best natural remedies for headaches. Make sure you talk to a healthcare provider before trying anything new.

Hydration

Staying hydrated is a low-cost, non-invasive, low-risk method of treating headaches. This means that there is little to no downside to drinking water.

Drinking one glass of water is not likely to cure your headache, but staying hydrated all of the time can reduce the occurrence and severity of headaches in the long run.

Supplements

There are a few supplements known to help with headaches. Two are vitamins, known as magnesium and B-complex. Studies have found that people who experience migraines and cluster headaches generally have low magnesium levels, so it can be beneficial to take magnesium supplements.

These magnesium supplements can reduce the occurrence of migraines and are often considered an effective treatment. As an alternative to a supplement, Serena Poon, a celebrity chef, nutritionist, and reiki master, recommends eating nuts, seeds, legumes, and spinach as good sources of magnesium. 

B vitamins are also considered effective treatments for migraine and are relatively safe because any excess is typically expelled through your urine. More specifically, studies have shown that vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid helped reduce the severity of migraines. A B-complex vitamin supplement is an excellent way to ingest all of the B vitamins at once.

Yet another supplement known to help with headaches is known as coenzyme Q10. CoQ10 is an antioxidant used by the body to metabolize food or turn it into energy. Taking 100 milligrams of CoQ10 per day was found to reduce migraine occurrences, severity, and length.

Sleep

Getting sufficient sleep when you have recurring migraines can be a difficult task. However, studies show that a lack of sleep is directly related to more frequent and severe headaches. Many patients with recurring headaches report that the headaches disrupt their sleep, even going as far as to cause insomnia.

One possible solution is to sleep more frequently and in short bursts, rather than one long sleep throughout the night. Trying to sleep at a specific time can be difficult, but if you allow for a more flexible sleep schedule, you may get sleep at other times.

Essential Oils

Lavender oil is considered beneficial for pain relief and has been used to treat migraines. Medieval physicians have used lavender to treat migraine attacks, but there is very little research on its benefits.

As long as your healthcare provider approves it and you are not allergic, lavender oil can be a calming and low-risk option for treating migraines. To use it, apply a small amount of lavender oil to your upper lip and breathe in the scent of it.

Cold Compress

Headaches happen when blood vessels swell or tighten, so reducing inflammation can reduce the severity of a headache. Cold compresses are known to reduce inflammation when applied to the head or neck.

One study found that cold compresses reduced the pain associated with headaches. This option is more of a short-term solution to reduce headache severity when it is occurring.

Elimination Diet

An elimination diet is designed to eliminate foods that trigger headaches. Common triggers for those who experience migraines include aged cheese, alcohol, chocolate, citrus fruits, and coffee.

Removing or reducing these things in your diet may help you to reduce the occurrence of headaches. Of course, you may have different triggers, so you may want to monitor your diet relative to your symptoms and eliminate any foods you think are triggering your headaches.

Ginger Tea

If you experience nausea and vomiting as a side effect of your migraines, try sipping some ginger tea. Ginger can help prevent nausea and vomiting.

To make ginger tea, you can slice up small pieces of ginger root and soak them in hot water. After about 5 minutes, remove the ginger pieces and wait for the water to cool enough to drink.

Ginger tea is robust, so you may not want to let the ginger pieces soak for too long. You can lighten the flavor a bit by adding honey.

Exercise and Relaxation Methods

Those who experience recurring headaches may find it beneficial to exercise regularly or practice relaxation techniques. Exercising regularly has many benefits, but studies have also found that it also reduces the frequency of headaches.

One study found that exercise was just as effective in treating headaches as relaxation methods. In this study, there were three groups. In one group, adults with migraines exercised for 40 minutes about three times a week. They noted that their migraines occurred less frequently.

When to Contact a Healthcare Provider

Typically, headaches are painful and bothersome, but not a cause for concern, but there are some red flags that could signal a more serious issue. Here are some reasons you need to see a healthcare provider for a headache—sometimes immediately.

  • If you experience a thunderclap headache, which is a severe headache that reaches maximum intensity within minutes, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Many people who have migraines also experience auras, but if your neurological symptoms are immediate, last longer than 60 minutes, or do not completely resolve, get medical attention.
  • If your headache is accompanied by weakness on one side of the body, a change in your level of consciousness, significant difficulty walking, or other symptoms that worry you, get immediate medical attention.
  • Contact a healthcare provider if your headache is persistent and does not go away or if it is always in the same location in your head.
  • Seek medical attention if you start getting new headaches, especially if you are older than 50 or if you have a medical condition such as a blood clotting disorder that makes getting headaches a concern.
  • Talk to a healthcare provider if you experience a significant increase in the frequency of your headaches or a significant change in your headache characteristics.
  • Get medical attention if you experience headaches that increase significantly when you change positions, such as when you stand after lying down.
  • Contact a healthcare provider if your headache begins because you are coughing, sneezing, or straining in some way.
  • Talk to a healthcare provider if your headache is accompanied by a fever, chills, weight loss, or night sweats.


A Word From Verywell

Natural remedies work alongside your doctor’s treatment for a better quality of life. These remedies can help but are not a replacement for treatment from a medical professional. To be safe, you should talk to a healthcare provider before trying any natural remedies, especially because some options may affect your medications.

If you experience recurring headaches of any kind, you should see a healthcare provider at your earliest convenience. And if you have a headache is especially painful, unpredictable, or concerning, seek medical care immediately.

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